You may or may not be a drummer, but if you’re a producer you need to know about drum pattern basics. Sometimes that means sampling; taking a slice from a record and rehashing it for your own needs. It is a really powerful and creative technique, but eventually, you’ll need to know more about how beats are made so you can construct your own.
Most DJs who move into production start off wanting to add custom beats, and it doesn’t hurt to learn some of the fundamentals that drummers employ. These classic beats are the building blocks of constructing your own drum patterns whether you’re working with a trackpad or a kit.
Drum pattern one: The 8th-note groove
This is one you can take anywhere. It’s a good starter because it’s so adaptable and works at any tempo. It’s all about the hi-hats playing those 8th notes, including those that fall between the kick and snare hits. Nail this one and you can start programming or recording beats immediately. You’ve got a kick on the first and third beats, snare on the second and fourth, and those closed hi-hats on every quaver note going across the bar.
Load your favorite Bandlab drum kit – try the Funk Kit with the BL 1176 compressor and a little Studio Reverb – and you’re good to go. Make sure you experiment with different tempos (don’t get stuck in a rut with that). Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ is probably the most well-known use of this beat.
Drum pattern two: The four-to-the-floor beat
If you can master the 8th-note groove above, then you shouldn’t have any problem with this one, in fact, it might even be easier to play in some ways. In programming terms, this is simply a matter of adding two extra clicks to the first beat. All you need to add to the 8th-note groove is a kick on the second and fourth beats, increasing the emphasis on each beat and the low frequencies.
This could be thought of as a disco beat, because it definitely will make people dance, but outside of the confines of genres, it’s one that gets people moving whatever style you’re working in.
You could still work with the same kit and effects as above, or you could also try it with a drum machine type of sound like Bandlab’s 808 kit for a more techno experience. Check out Queen’s ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ as an example of how well this popular beat can work.
Drum pattern three: The shuffle groove
This adds a different feel to the previous beats, simply by changing the hi-hat pattern. It’s the same eight hi-hat beats in a bar, but move them around a bit to create triplets. Keep a kick drum on the first and third beats, a snare on the second and fourth, and add hi-hats as illustrated below.
In Bandlab, you can draw in the hi-hats, then right-click on the notes and choose 1/8th quantization. Note that here we’re using only two of the three triplets for each occurrence, and it’s the missing one that makes it bounce. Note that it’s not always hi-hats – the shuffle can happen on any part of the kit. Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed A Girl’ is one example of this beat.
Drum pattern four: The disco groove
Even with simple beats, the smallest changes can totally transform the feel of an entire song. The disco groove is a prime example. Once again, put the kick on all the downbeats, snare on the second and fourth beats, then add a closed hi-hat on each beat. What changes is the addition of open hi-hats on the offbeats, which changes the emphasis and moves it away from the kicks and snares. It’s another way of creating a ‘bounce’, just like using the shuffle.
It doesn’t matter what you think of disco as a genre. Like all the beats covered here, this pattern can be used in many different situations. It’s a classic. Listen to Rod Stewart’s ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’ to hear Carmine Appice playing a definitive take on the disco groove.
Drum pattern five: The half-time shuffle
This drum pattern is a fun one to program and it always sounds great. It combines a shuffle with a half-time beat. The tempo you’re playing is still the same, but the kick and snare are effectively playing at half that tempo. You could actually start this one by copying the shuffle groove from earlier. Keep the kick on the first beat, add another on the second beat, and the snare on the third beat, the others can go. Keep the hi-hats.
Another characteristic is to add more snare hits, but keeping them very quiet, so they fall between the hi-hats in certain spots. In this example, there are two extra snares, once again quantized to 1/8th triplet values. With velocity values of 40, they just add a little percussive color to the beat.
Real drums are very dynamic instruments and we can choose to emulate that in our programming. You can hear the half-time shuffle at work at the hands of the originator, Bernard Purdie, on Steely Dan’s ‘Home At Last’.
These are all classic beats that can be used in many situations. They’re infinitely variable and once you get a handle on them it’s your choice – maybe even your responsibility – to reinvent and repurpose them to suit your needs.